Updated: Government grade inflation I

26 12 2009

Update/ใหม่! ดูเว็บของ Liberal Thai สำหรับฉบับภาษาไทย: รัฐบาลเกรดเฟ้อ ตอน ๑

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva joined other Democrat Party members in giving his Democrat Party-led government high marks for its first year in government. Just a few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban gave the government an A+. Grade inflation seems to be a problem not just in universities.

Several commentators and bloggers have given their assessments of the government’s first year, and these have not been as rosy and glowing as the self-assessments. Bangkok Pundit has a useful post.

The Malaysian Insider (“Thailand has ‘stabilised and prospered’,” 24 December 2009) has a report of Abhisit’s upbeat self-assessment. There it is stated that “Abhisit’s ‘report card’ speech came amid opinion polls showing lacklustre public approval of his government’s performance.”

Abhisit claimed that the country had “stabilised and prospered.” He added that all of this alleged progress could be undone by his opponents if “instability and violence were to erupt again.”

Speaking to a carefully chosen audience of ministers, bureaucrats and the media at Government House,” Abhisit claimed “growing employment and improved tourism and export numbers” were “proof that economic stimulus and welfare measures had worked.”

PPT has usually avoided referring to the prime minister as a liar. This time we won’t call him a liar either as we know that statistics can be picked an chosen from several sources to support a case. So let’s just compare figures.

Unemployment: Abhisit claims that unemployment was about 700,000 when his government was installed by the military and palace conspirators. He claims it is now just 400,000. Usually, though, unemployment rates are most easily compared rather than fluctuating absolute numbers (which tend to be seasonal and low in Thailand’s official reporting). So how do rates look?

Quarter 4 rates are not yet available, so PPT uses the National Statistical Office’s published Q2 rates from labor force surveys:

2001: 3.5%

2005: 2.0%

2006: 1.7%

2007: 1.6%

2008: 1.4%

2009: 1.7%

Now that doesn’t look like the claimed decline. But are we unfair to the premier because he refers to the period from when he was shoe-horned into the prime minister’s office? That was in December 2008 and, as yet, there are no comparable data for December 2009. The NSO has rates for September 2008 and September 2009. These are 1.2% for both years. If we converted these rates to absolute numbers it would be impossible to have falling numbers unless there are several hundreds of thousands departing the paid workforce.

So on employment, at best we think the prime minister is fudging.

Tourism: Improved tourism is claimed. No figures in what we have seen so far, so let’s just look at tourism data that are available. These data are hard to dig out, so PPT uses the data provided at thaiwebsites.com. There it is shown that for the 10 months to the end of October 2009, tourism arrivals were down 30% year-on-year. Readers might also like to read the story at absolutelyBangkok.com.

Absolute border crossings data recorded by the Immigration Police show similar patterns. Where they begin to show increases, these are almost all accounted for by low-profit package tourists from South Asia, China and Russia.

PPT looked around for other data and one of the very interesting things we found is that the government’s Office of Tourism Development doesn’t provide international arrivals data for November and December 2008. No need to wonder why this might be censored by a pro-PAD government!

If we look at arrivals at Suwanabhumi airport, they were down for January to August 2009 (with declines ranging from 5.77% to 26.18%), and only saw year-on-year upticks in September, October and November (the high November increase of 39.48% is due to the severe decline in 2008 when the airports were occupied by PAD).

Sure, these numbers are up from their lows, but even the government’s optimistic projection of 14 million tourists this year would still only be about the same as 2007. Revenues will be way down. No doubt the

Exports: It’s the same story really. From lows in January to May period, exports have increased. But these are all way down on 2008. Most of the increases are due to the general economic pick-up internationally (for details, see Thai Crisis).

In his speech, Abhisit trumpeted that the gains he claimed were “despite an environment full of animosity due to political conflict…”. Well, perhaps, but we are sure that PPT readers will recall that the previous governments faced considerable animosity from 2005 to 2008 and yet achieved better results. Of course, they didn’t have to deal so much with the worldwide recession.

Abhisit also made odd claims about “his government had moved away from expensive populist measures to more rational policies.” We commented on this earlier, noting that, for Abhisit, populism was a short-lived policy and was only populist when it is another party’s policy (e.g. universal health care) rather than his own party’s policy (free education).

So on economic matters, Abhisit is shown to be, at best, disingenuous. At worst, he is making things up.

PPT will shortly post another assessment of the government and human rights.


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28 12 2009
New: Government grade inflation II « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Government grade inflation II Two days ago, PPT posted Part 1 of our assessment of current Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, covering the topics of unemployment, […]

28 12 2009
รัฐบาลเกรดเฟ้อ ตอน ๑ « Liberal Thai

[…] by chapter 11 Government grade inflation I December 26, 2009 ที่มา – Political Prisoners in Thailand แปลและเรียบเรียง – แชพเตอร์ […]